California's unemployment rate fell slightly to 7% in December, closing out a year that included several unpleasant surprises for the labor market amid generally strong growth.
The state's jobless rate fell last month after dipping to 7.2% in November, according to the California Employment Development Department. Although the rate is down from 8.3% a year ago, it remains much higher than the 5.6% rate nationwide.
Economists, however, fixated on the number of nonfarm payroll workers the government said employers added in December: a paltry 700 jobs.
The weak uptick left many economists befuddled. The rate of growth pales in comparison to the 82,800 jobs added in November -- revised down from the initial report of a nearly unprecedented 90,100 jobs.
Last year, employers went on an almost uninterrupted hiring spree, save for drops in January and September.
"This morning's state job report brings the state back to earth," Michael Bernick, a former Employment Development Department director, wrote in an email.
Viewing the final quarter of 2014 offers a "more accurate picture" of roughly 26,000 jobs added per month last year, he said.
"This is healthier job growth than we have seen since the early 2000s, and more in line with what we can expect in 2015," he said.
"With lower oil prices, every expectation [is] that the strong job growth we saw in 2014 will continue in 2015," he continued. "These lower oil prices have yet to negatively impact jobs in the energy field, while aiding growth in other sectors. "
Nonfarm payroll jobs increased 2.1% compared with December 2013. Since the recovery began in February 2010, employers have added 1,522,900 jobs in California.
Sectors such as financial activities, educational and health services and government grew in December, according to the government. Leisure and hospitality employers had the most gains.
But categories that have previously shown strength -- construction and professional and business services among them -- reported job declines.
Fewer job seekers joined the state's labor force last month -- 11,000 workers compared with 66,000 in November.
Los Angeles County's unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted, was 7.5% in December. Imperial County's 21% rate was the highest rate in the state; Marin County's 3.4% rate was the lowest.